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Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Lack of energy
  • Irritability
  • Skin rashes

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor right away if your child has:

  • A sudden high fever
  • A stiff neck
  • A severe headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty waking up or is not responding to you like usual


Meningitis can be caused by:

  • Germs. Germs, such as bacteria [bak-TEER-ee-uh], viruses [VAHY-ruhs-uhs], fungi [FUHN-jahy], and parasites [PAR-uh-sahyts], can all cause meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is uncommon, but can be deadly.
  • Head injuries.
  • Some cancers.
  • Certain medicines.

Diagnosis and Tests

Meningitis can be diagnosed by performing an exam and with:

  • Blood tests.
  • Imaging tests.
  • A cerebrospinal [suh-ree-broh-SPAHYN-l] fluid (CSF) test (also called a spinal tap or lumbar puncture). Cerebrospinal fluid is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord


It’s important to know the specific cause of meningitis because the type of treatment depends on the cause. Antibiotic medicine can treat meningitis caused by bacteria. Some antiviral medicines are available to treat some types of viral meningitis. Other medicines can help treat the symptoms caused by other types of meningitis.


Meningitis may be prevented by:

  • Vaccines
    • Meningococcal [muh-ning-goh-KOK-uhl]. This vaccine protects against a serious form of bacterial meningitis, which can be deadly. If your child has been in close contact with someone with meningococcal disease, call your doctor. Your child may need an antibiotic to prevent the disease.
    • Haemophilus [hee-MOF-uh-lus] influenzae [in-floo-EN-zay] type B (Hib). This vaccine prevents a type of bacterial meningitis.
    • Pneumococcal [noo-muh-KOK-uhl]. These vaccines protect against bacterial meningitis. One type is given to children under age 2.
    • Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR). Children need this vaccine to protect them from meningitis caused by measles and mumps.
    • Varicella [var-uh-SEL-uh]. The varicella vaccine protects children against chickenpox, which sometimes leads to viral meningitis.
  • Being careful around people who have meningitis. It’s possible for people with meningitis — or who carry a germ that can causes meningitis — to spread the disease by kissing, coughing, sneezing, or sharing toothbrushes or eating utensils.
  • Washing hands often with soap and water.

Support and Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Meningitis; Vaccine Resources

KidsHealth: Meningitis

MedlinePlus: Meningitis

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis [men-in-JAHY-tis] is inflammation of the meninges [mi-NIN-jeez], a protective tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by a bacterial [bak-TEER-ee-uhl] or viral [VAHY-ruhl] infection of the fluid found in between the meninges and the brain and spinal cord. Sometimes, meningitis can be very serious and can cause hearing loss, strokes, brain damage, or death.